Pakistan's lawyers delivered a blow to Generalissimo Pervez Musharraf from which the then lord and master of all he surveyed never recovered. After a hiatus or a period of hibernation, they have delivered another blow, this time smack on the complacency – I will not say the face – of the Zardari presidency.
Lest we exaggerate matters, unlike in the case of the erstwhile Generalissomo (sadly now just a blot on the national landscape), for Asif Ali Zardari, the new lord and master of Pakistan's rundown stables, this is not a knockabout blow. After all, these are early times for him and he still has a long way to go before he fully tests the patience of the Pakistani people and like all others before him walks into the sunset. But it is a wake-up call, a sign that it is never wise to rest on one's laurels or give way to premature arrogance.
The government and its team of legal minions – a deadly pack led by a hungry threesome: Law Minister Farooq Naek, Attorney General Latif Khosa and ministerial hopeful Babar Awan whose under-rehearsed histrionics would test the patience of a certified saint – had done what lay in their power to stack the decks against Kurd's election as Supreme Court Bar president. But they misread the times and the resolve of the legal community.
Lawyers who had spearheaded the movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and, after Nov 3 last year when Musharraf attacked the Constitution and imposed emergency rule, the restoration of the rightful judiciary, were not about to forfeit the moral stature they had acquired in that struggle at the altar of expediency and opportunism. So all the guile emanating from President Zardari's legal team failed and Pakistan's lawyers delivered a kick to chicanery and double-talk that will long be remembered.
To its eternal credit the Lahore bar has taken the lead in this kick, delivering the highest number of votes, and the biggest margin of victory, to Kurd who because of his unassuming ways and fiery oratory (an unlikely combination) is very likely the most popular figure of the lawyers' movement.
Other leaders of that movement – Munir A Malik, Aitzaz Ahsan, Justice Tariq Mahmood, Hamid Khan et al. – are respected and in their different ways looked up to. But if anyone could lay claim to popular affection it was Kurd. What a paradox his physical persona presents. Short in stature, almost diminutive in appearance, yet exuding moral authority because of his integrity and his commitment to the principles fuelling the lawyers' movement: the independence of the judiciary, respect for the rule of law, constitutional supremacy. I suppose this is what is meant by charisma. Promises made only meant to be broken, all the formidable array of one's teeth-flashing smiles that even a child would perhaps detect as false, and the robes of high office, don't confer moral authority. That comes from something within.
But not to let enthusiasm outstrip reality, Kurd's victory won't hand Pakistan or its sorely-tried masses anything immediately. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is not about to be restored to his position in a hurry and Justice Ramday and the other judges of the superior judiciary, victims of Nov 3 2007, are not about to return in triumph to their respective benches.. But politically conscious Pakistanis can take heart from this event that all is not lost. This again proves that given the chance they will do the right thing.
The Pakistani people proved this on Feb 18 when with their ballots they voted in parties that they thought were antithetical to the Musharraf order and all the anti-people policies that order represented. Pakistan's highest-placed lawyers (only lawyers with a certain amount of experience qualify as members of the Supreme Court Bar) have proved it with Kurd's resounding election as SC Bar president.
It may sound like a tall claim to make but the people of Pakistan have never failed their country. Time and again they have showed that they are capable of the right decisions: whether in 1947, 1970 or, as most recently, in 2008. They are not to be blamed if time and again it's the leadership which has failed the nation.
We are witnessing the same phenomenon again. The people voted for change on Feb 18. They voted for Musharraf's ouster, the restoration of the Musharraf-purged judiciary and an end to Pakistan's clammy embrace of American policy. They certainly did not vote for Pakistan's return to the IMF. If the people of Pakistan have been disappointed, if their expectations have not been met, if they present the spectacle of a demoralised nation, it is not because their judgement on Feb 18 was wrong but because it is no one's fault except perhaps of our stars that we have a governing elite about whose blazing incompetence nothing more needs to be proven, so self-evident a truth is this now taken to be.
This elite is not just corrupt in the financial or material sense of the word, it is intellectually and moral bankrupt. It is devoid of ideas, incapable of new initiatives, slaves in thought to outside influence. The language of this class, the ruling language of Pakistan, is English, yet this elite whose members once-upon-a-time could claim mastery, or something close to it, of the language, are increasingly incompetent in the use of English.
Supreme Court and high court judgements some time ago used to be a pleasure to read. Alas, not any more. Our diplomats, high officials, even our politicians could pride themselves on the use of the language. Now the less said about it the better. Which is not to say that English, or French or German for that matter, are passports to any kind of salvation. But if this is the tool we choose to apply, the need arises for being skilful in its use and handling.
Another example of the alarming literacy standards we must contend with. President Zardari chooses to mumble a few sentences in English when he meets President Bush, when he could quite as easily have spoken in his native Sindhi and have someone translate for him, and makes Bush sound like a prince of articulation. Which must have surprised even our American friends.
Tailpiece one: A salute to the army command and army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani for deciding to shelve if not rescind completely ongoing work on that monument to white elephant-ism: a new General Headquarters below the Margalla Hills. This was something Pakistan never needed and could always have done without. But the army's megalomania or, perhaps more accurately, its well-documented love of occupying whatever more space it could, decreed work on what was always going to be a monstrosity. Now it has taken the international financial crisis, and our own domestic economic mess, to finally drive some sense into our military bonzes to lay this idea to rest for some time. Does the army have any idea of how widely welcomed this step has been? Which should be a cue for it to lay this idea to rest forever. Rawalpindi as long as the nation can remember has been home to the army command and that is how it should remain. If GHQ must expand let it do so towards Chakri. This will benefit Rawalpindi. So what if the initial GHQ plan was okayed by Mr Bhutto in 1973? Has the army been loyal to Bhutto's memory in other respects for it to seize upon this decision to justify this unwanted extravagance? The Pakistan Air Force needs to follow suit by cancelling orders for further F-16s, another symptom of the national predilection for white elephant-ism. We are not going to fight India, are we? And if, defying common sense, we have to use warplanes in FATA, we can make do with less sophisticated aircraft. The Taliban when hit won't know the difference.
Tailpiece two: In any event, what's with our India policy and why is the Zardari administration, following in the footsteps of Musharraf, so bent upon sucking up to India so needlessly and without the least reciprocity? We have seen that no mount of verbal concessions on Kashmir, and no amount of unilateral olive-branch waving, has had the slightest effect on India. We should keep our powder dry and not fritter it away in useful peace shots. And what will it take us to wake up to India's blatant stealing of Chenab waters? The Zardari administration, caught in other games, has still to realise the gravity, nay enormity, of this crisis. Which perhaps explains its stoical indifference.
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